Hello there! Been a while since the last post. I’ve been extremely busy updating After The Collapse.Most patch related updates have been posted on the respective stores instead. With the weekly patch schedule, copy-pasting the change-logs every week seemed redundant. So, instead, here’s a meaty post summarizing our progress, our plans for 0.5, and various other news and announcements. It’s not entirely tied to ATC, I have a lot to say about Steam, so even if the game isn’t your cup of tea, it might be worth a read.
After The Collapse: Current Status
The initial release was a bit rough, to say the least. But we got to a decent state after several weekly patches. The game still has its small share of problems, of course. But, from a technical standpoint, it now does what it says on the tin. Looking at our refunds, crashes and performances issues are pretty rare (less than 10% of refunds). It’s still a bother to know that several people didn’t read the EA warning, and never bothered to post in the forum or discord for support. But that’s life.
The main issue (70% of refunds) is that the game is either too complicated or too boring. Too complicated: while base builder veterans would laugh that point off, it’s still a valid concern, not everyone has played such a game before, actually the vast majority hasn’t. To address that point, last week I added an interactive tutorial with bonus story and lore bits. It’s way too early to tell if it’s going to reduce complaints, especially as it’s a work in progress, but it’s a first step in the right direction. While addressing the “complicated” factor was an urgent concern I needed to address quickly , the “fun” problem is not something I can really reorder my roadmap for. Firstly, because fun is always a matter of perspective, and secondly because there’s only so many ways in which I can implement said roadmap. It’ll get progressively more eventful and fun, and later down the line, more balanced.
Anyway, we’re getting to a point where the base building part is working correctly, it’s just a bit dull and lacking in meaningful choices (which will come in due time). Combat is still wonky, but we’re progressively addressing that. There’s a couple of things to do before I can do a proper combat overhaul anyway.
After The Collapse: 0.5 Edition
With the tutorial out of the way, the current goal is to add the underground layer. Well, technically it’s not limited to the underground layer, it’s to give the ability to handle multiple scenes simultaneously. And this is quite a tall order. Not so much the act in itself, which the engine already does, but all the “little” things like connecting those scenes in a manner that’s transparent to the AI and the UI. After all, it wouldn’t be very interesting if you couldn’t move your supplies from a layer to another and build/raze stuff in both.
Right now, I’ve written several procedural cave generators and they give decent, varied, results. To be fair, by now it’s a well studied area in procedural generation. I’ve not tackled the sewer stuff yet, but it shouldn’t pose much of an issue either. Both are much easier to generate than city blocks, and yes, I will improve that part too at some point. On that side, we just need to render it in a way that look decent. This is why I’m not going to publish screenshots yet, I still have to add proper tiles and walls to get a proper ‘underground vibe’. Additionally, path-finding between scenes work: settlers can navigate freely between the two layers using stairs you’ll be able to build early game, so that’s another big thing that has been tackled already.
Outside of minor interface, weather and rendering tweaks, there’s two things I need to finish before being able to showcase the feature. Firstly, the ability for the engine to fetch information from both the over-world and the underground as they were a single entity, otherwise it would be impossible for underground settlers to locate supply in the over-world. Secondly there’s the job dispatcher (used to store/sort/assign jobs given by the player). Both are currently tied to a specific scene, and that obviously won’t do. There’s multiple ways to fix those limitations, the trick is to pick the one that will work when we extend the system again while keeping the needed adjustments to a minimum.
All things considered, it’s going well. I was expecting this feature to be a nightmare to implement, but no. As such, we should keep our schedule more or less intact. What will take time, as usual, is to deal with the smaller details and occasionally confused AI.
Of course, just adding another layer to dig into isn’t meaningful without content. As we’ll be progressing in the 0.5.x branch, some parts of the underground will contain threats, be it creatures or forgotten bunkers containing resources, lost technologies and, of course, hostiles. Additionally, we’ll likely allow the player to start in an underground vault.. cough.. I mean bunker. Not sure such scenario will available on day 1, as it’s going to require new buildings (hydroponics at the very least) and systems to be introduced first. But yes, it’s planned.
Additionally, we’ll have to be able to build roofs, similarly to Rimworld, not visible, but you have to build it to protect yourself from the rain. Basically a way to determine what’s “inside” and what’s “outside”. First implementation will likely be a bit rough, but as with everything else, it will be made gradually easier to use based on feedback.
With all that done, it will be time to implement the hostile weather, the radiations, and other extremely nasty effects of living outside in a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland. Features that will allow us to nicely transition to the advanced medical stuff for 0.6.
The 0.5 release will mark our first price increase (to $9.99), which should happen shortly after Steam’s winter sale. No exact date yet, as it will only increase when the inevitable bugs in the first version have been squashed. But it should be in early January. We won’t be discounting the game down further than it has already been. So while the discount percentage might mathematically increase during future sales, the price point won’t go below what you guys have paid for it (at least not in the foreseeable future).
To keep myself from going crazy coding 7 days a week on the same project, once done with this major update, I’ll be allocating a few hours a week to work on a much smaller, Unending Galaxy themed, arena shooter with a twist. It will likely be very cheap (below $5) and reusing our old assets. I have a lot of unused code laying around to make that small game and I’d love to test it because I think it could be a fun little time killer. This will also allow me to test graphical effects, flight models and carrier mechanics I’d like to implement in a future proper UG sequel. As such, no matter how well the game is doing, it won’t be for nothing.
And before you start yelling at me: This will NOT impact our schedule or ATC in any way, shape or form. This is something I will be doing on (what’s left of) my free time.
There are other reasons why I’m doing this. Simply put, having a single active game on Steam at a time became extremely dangerous financially. Since October, Valve has been messing up with their algorithms to a point it makes many small developers quite nervous. While I haven’t been hit very hard, some of my colleagues have seen losses as high as 80% in revenue. And, even if I’m not hoping for that game to make much money (if any), there’s still a ripple effect when having multiple active projects. Plus, for those who want to support what I do, I think it’s a fairer deal than begging on things like Patreon.
And this naturally leads to…
It has been quite an eventful year. Sometimes, I wonder if Valve just rolls dices to make a decision. I mean, I am extremely thankful for its existence, I wouldn’t be there without Steam, and they’ve always been super helpful when I needed something from them. Not mentioning how practical is their API, community and upload systems. But in the last 12 months or so, there was a series of events which makes me question their sanity.
Let’s recap. A year ago, Steam Direct was introduced to replace the already very light curation of Greenlight. Basically if you pay $100, you can publish anything on Steam. And I mean anything. Leading to a daily dump of dozens of things I refuse to call games, competing for views, and making most of the store’s useful listings near unusable. We were promised filters to help the users, but they never really materialized. Of course, when you’re accepting anyone on the store, you’ll end up with a lot of unsavory people. Keys, cards, coupons and achievements were massively abused, leading to yet another change, basically removing the ability for anyone not fulfilling some hidden metrics to get access to those. While I couldn’t care less about cards, and don’t build products in categories swamped by fake games, it’s still an annoying decrease in the quality of life.
Then came the October debacle I mentioned above. Slight changes in the algorithms probably aiming at hiding the trash, backfired badly, and cut the income of much larger, actual games by 40 to 80% for that month. It’s supposedly fixed (to some extend), but it still put some people under. While we weren’t impacted by that one, suddenly, a month later in early December, we didn’t sell any copy for 2 days in a row, with a massive (50%) dip in visitors (because suddenly we weren’t showing in the spots we convert the best to sales). As suddenly as it happened, we were back on again a day later. Sure, it’s only a marginal financial hit, but it’s still entirely out of my control. Valve flat out refused to communicate on those issues. It took more of a month for them to post a basic statement about October, and it was as generic as you can imagine.
What really didn’t help is that they followed up that mistake by announcing they would reduce the share they take from games making millions of dollars. We all know the numbers, and you can look them up, but I think it’s still against my contract to explicitly write them down (I know, it’s stupid, most devs ignore it, but just in case, I will just go along with the rule). I do get why they do it and it does make a lot of sense. Big earners get big discounts if only for the reason that they can leave the store or make their own whenever they want anyway. With Direct and the flood of terrible asset flips, it was only a matter of time until big studios thought it was too much to pay to be in the same store as “Bitcoin Miner Trojan 2018”. It’s logical. I’m not faulting them for that. But in the context of the recent events, it’s very hard for many of those who are just trying to make an honest living not to take that as a personal insult.
All those drawbacks are a consequence of Steam Direct. They had thousands of ways to handle the transition. But, they selected the most beneficial one for them in the short-term. No curation at all, and a 100$ fee most won’t recoup (you can recoup it if you make $1000, most don’t). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for some panel of experts to rate candidates, I’m just asking for a dozen of people paid to make sure that 1) it’s functional, 2) it’s not a copy of a tutorial / existing game / asset flip 3) googling to make sure some of the images don’t lead to 3rd party copyrighted material 4) it’s not a nocive application. I don’t care about the “value” of a game or app, just that it’s not obvious trash. Those 4 criterias alone would reduce the flood by 80% at least. It’s not that hard, I’d happily check 10 games a day (for pay) doing exactly that, and I’d have leftover time because those “devs” aren’t very subtle.
But instead, they are playing with algorithms to hide that stuff. With the effects mentioned above. While, thankfully, I’m working in genres which can’t be impacted too much but the flood, it’s still making my job unnecessarily more difficult: contacting the press became an exercice in futility, and our “main” category (simulation) has been entirely co-opted by asset flips. Heck, even the word “indie” has been tarnished, with the help of drama focused youtubers.
Long story short, It’s a complicated period, for me and for many other legit developers. Still, all in all, our game is doing fine. Heck, ATC should do very well on release if my metrics are accurate and they should be. But, with the press of a button, Valve can decide that “meh, your best view to sale category, we’re not going to show that anymore to our users” not because they want me to fail, but because they are desperately trying to find a way to sort the good from the bad in the torrent of games released each day via algorithms, instead of reassessing their previous decisions. And as you can guess, it’s pretty much an impossible task.
Anyway, that’s all for this update. After The Collapse is doing fine, we’re not in any danger, and the development is happily going along. This post serves more as a warning to other people than anything else. And please, for fuck’s sake, if you think you’re a developer but can barely copy-paste code from stack overflow (or worse, don’t even know what stack overflow is), or if it’s your first project but you’re totally making a MMORPG that will kill WoW, please, and I am saying that with extreme care, and as a company: fuck off. You’re part of the problem, you’re the reason why Steam is getting worse. I know, most devs will use hyperboles to say the same thing more politely, but they assume they are talking to intelligent people who can get a hint. It’s not my experience, on the contrary, so I’m laying it out in the open, you’re wasting your time and money, and you’re making the life more difficult for everybody else.
But seriously, and it’s a fair advice: don’t aim for Steam if that’s remotely the case for you, you’re not going to make money anyway. The days when it was an achievement to be on that store are long gone and everyone knows it. But something is still true, the garbage you’ll put on Steam will literally ruin your future in this industry if you don’t treat it properly. Instead, start small and build your way up, it’s infinitely more rewarding and less risky.